Have a Happy Healthy Holiday

November 25, 2009

Imagine this: A holiday season where you gain no weight and you’re not stressed out.

Impossible? Not at all.

We’re not recommending a complete personal overhaul. Save that for the New Year. Instead, consider the following tips and strategies as a starting point—a way to create a happy, healthy December and begin habits you can build on in 2010.

Stress and the holidays

Sometimes there’s so much to do during the holidays that before we know it, the stress begins to build. What’s the easiest way to alleviate a moment of stress?

Breathe.

“So many of our physiological responses to stress can be noticed in, and then changed by, our breath,” says Tracy Weber, yoga instructor and owner of Whole Life Yoga in Seattle. Weber offers Yoga Therapy classes that relieve stress and anxiety. Signs of stress include holding your breath, shallow breathing, and fast breathing.

Why does breathing work? It slows down the chemical processes in the body and lets the parasympathetic nervous system kick in, which is your calming system.

Here is a simple, everyday breathing practice that Weber recommends:

  • Take time during the day to stop and notice your breathing. Notice the quality and where you feel the breath in your body.
  • Start to breathe more slowly. Feel your belly expand on the inhales.
  • Count up to six seconds, breathing in and out. Do this for five minutes.

“If you lengthen the breath for five minutes a day, things begin to shift for the better in a way that you can’t possibly imagine,” Weber says.

The truth about holiday weight gain

Here, there’s good news and there’s bad news.

According to a Wall Street Journal blog, the average weight gain between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day among men and women is just over one pound. One tiny little pound.

But here’s the problem: people don’t usually lose that one pound—ever.

We’re not encouraging anyone to start a weight loss program now, but we have some healthful eating strategies that can keep you from eating out of control this month—and every month to follow.

Don’t save up calories

We all do it. We eat like birdies during the day so we can indulge during the evening party hours. But if you arrive at the party starving, you’re setting yourself up for all the wrong choices.

“When you’re hungry or tired, your body needs carbs and sugars now and it craves a quick fix,” says nutritionist Julie Starkel, a registered dietitian and a nutritional counselor at Green Lake Nutrition in Seattle. “This is why we go for pretzels and cookies rather than fish and vegetables.” So this means that when you take good care of your body, you’ll find it easy to eat healthy food; if you’re tired or don’t eat enough, you naturally will feel like eating unhealthy food.

Try these simple eating strategies for the holidays—and life:

  • Keep yourself well fed throughout the day. Eat five times a day. Make breakfast the biggest meal and eat a protein with every meal. “When the right animal proteins and fats [polyunsaturated and monounsaturated] go into your system, it fills you up,” says Starkel. If you’re a regular Chef by Request customer, you’re already experiencing this.
  • Get enough rest. Diet aside, how much more pleasant is that holiday party at your in-laws when you’re well rested?

Emotional eating

Many of us turn to food when our emotions are charged. The first step to creating new eating habits is to pay attention.

“Take some time to think about why and when you eat mindlessly. Changing that behavior takes time and commitment. The holidays probably aren’t the time to dig into changing yourself,” Starkel says, “but it can be a good time to start. See it, catch it, and get to know it.”

Make your holidays meaningful

Sometimes we forget about what matters to us during the holidays. We get caught up in all the social duties: shopping, parties, decorations, family, friends, relatives, trying to do everything—all of this can add up to overwhelm!

Weber encourages people to reconnect with a symbol or a ritual that brings meaning to the holidays. So, if it’s about peace or connections for you, focus on peaceful activities and personal connections. Let the shopping and party hopping fall to the wayside. Make your family and friends aware of your decision. When you set priorities and intentions that matter to you, you’re setting yourself up for a happier holiday.
And this could be the best holiday gift you give yourself all year.

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Immune Boost Your Life

November 18, 2009

How do we keep ourselves healthy during flu season—and for life?

The answer starts with taking a big-picture view of your life and then developing lifestyle habits that support and maintain good health.

“If we put our body in the right position and do what it’s meant to do, good things happen—like positive immune systems,” says Dr. Mark Adams, a naturopathic physician and founder of onvo, a whole body health practice based in Bellevue, WA. 

“Good real food, supplements, sleep, hydration, and physical activity add up over time,” says Dr. Mark. “We don’t have to be perfect,” he adds. “Our bodies are made tough. We’re not delicate flowers.”

To find out what we need to know to be healthy, we asked Dr. Mark for some tips and guidance.

Eat real food

Good quality food equals good health. Dr. Mark defines “real food” as the food that’s been around forever: fruits, nuts, legumes, eggs, dairy, poultry, seafood, and meat. “Food without labels is generally better than food with labels,” he says. Real food also hasn’t been processed or refined.

Don’t be fooled by items that claim to be “health food”—a lot of it has been processed. Remember: “processed” means something has been added to or taken away from the original food. You want to stay as close to the original state of the food as possible.

If you’re on a zone-style plan, you’re eating from what Dr. Mark calls the “real-food category.” This is especially important for diabetics and those with celiac disease—people who need to be diligent about eating real food.

It’s a simple formula: The more real food we take in, the more we improve the quality of our nutrition and build up our immune system.

Add probiotics to your diet

“Helping the digestive system is important to building the immune system,” says Dr. Mark.

Incorporating probiotics into our diet keeps us healthy by balancing the microflora in our bacterial ecosystem and regulating our immune system. Probiotics come in a variety of fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, and in supplement form. Dr. Mark recommends consulting a doctor if you’re going to take a probiotic supplement.

Watch the body fat

When you maintain a healthy body fat level—a benefit of the zone-inspired Chef by Request meals–you boost your immune system. Why? Because body fat stores toxins and puts pressure on internal organs.

Take Vitamin D

Think about it. When do we get sick? When we start to get less sun. As it turns out, people who have sufficient levels of vitamin D are healthier and rarely get the flu.

Dr. Mark recommends taking the vitamin in the form of vitamin D3 (there’s D, D2 and D3), which he describes as “closest to the end product.” Doses vary for individuals. As a general guideline, try something like: 1,000 to 2,000 IU/day for children and around 5,000 IU/day for adults. If you want the most accurate dosage, get your Vitamin D levels checked by your doctor.

Stay hydrated

“Water is a medium for our body,” Dr. Mark tells us. “It’s one of our primary sources of fuel.” On a desert island, we’d die of dehydration before we’d die of starvation. Also, the body needs about two quarts of water a day, some of which it gets from food—it gets it best from real food.

Signs of dehydration include dark or concentrated urine, a chronically dry mouth, and fatigue.

To stay hydrated: Drink 8 to 12 ounces of water upon waking. The conventional wisdom of taking in two quarts (8 glasses) of water a day still holds, although some of that will come from the food you eat, depending on your diet. Also, as you drink water throughout the day, sip your water. If you guzzle it, it goes right through your cells and out of your body.

Sleep and exercise

An active lifestyle—some kind of movement—is essential to the health of human beings. And yet, so is sleep. Sometimes, in our busy ambitious lives, they work at cross-purposes: Should I get some extra sleep or should I work out?

“Sleep should be sacred,” says Dr. Mark, who adds that fatigue is one of the most common complaints heard at doctors’ offices.

So, if you feel run down, and you’re choosing between sleep and a workout, choose more sleep. Or, go on an easier run or a walk. Not every workout has to be intense.

Remember the bottom line: Your body has a greater chance of functioning and being healthy when you’re well rested.

Once you pull all these parts together to keep yourself healthy, you can make the strongest positive impact on your immune system.

“And yes, it takes time, energy, and money to be healthy, but it also takes time, energy, and money to not be healthy,” Dr. Mark says. “After all, health is just another word for life.”

More links:
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